Submitted 11/07/07:
About one week ago I inherited a rescue English Pointer. Every morning the dog wakes up and scratches at both ears for a half hour or until I get up and scratch his ears for him. The ears look clean and there aren’t any signs of mites, but I noticed a small amount of pus and redness around the pinna. Sometimes it is painful to the touch. I looked in a book and they recommend 70% isopropyl alcohol with 10% iodine, does this sound reasonable? I really can’t afford a vet visit right now so I’m hoping to try something else first.

A couple of things from the soapbox. If the ear is irritated to the point of being inflamed with pus, alcohol is going to burn like crazy and the dog likely will become head shy. You mention no evidence of mites, and while they are not as common in older dogs, you can almost never see them without the aid of a microscope. Lastly, if it is infected to the point of visible pus you NEED to go to the vet, and you are beyond the window of home care.

While it would be great if everyone could own pets, the simple fact is that they do cost money and sometimes we have to spend money in order to seek appropriate care. Whether we buy, adopt or find these dogs we are making a contract with them as a living thing to provide appropriate care, and sometimes that entails a vet visit for correct diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately with homecare, in some situations, you can end up in a worse situation than had you just went in initially.

Some ear problems are manageable at home. That being said, a dog that can’t sleep, has pus in his ears and is very itchy needs to be seen and treated by a veterinarian.

Submitted 8/6/04:
I have a 9-month-old GSP. I know these dogs can be prone to ear infection due to their long floppy ears. Is there something I should use on a regular basis to clean them?

This is a good question, as I almost always encourage new dog owners to get in the habit of cleaning their dogs' ears when they are puppies so that it does not become such an issue if the dog were to develop ear problems. You should be able to get a mild, maintenance ear cleaner from your vet. I say maintenance because some of the cleaners available are formulated for specific types of infection. As far as a method to cleaning, here is a portion of the ear handout I send home with clients:

Cleaning Your Dog's Ears: An important part of treating your dog's ear infection/mites involves frequent ear cleanings, which you can do at home. Make sure you clean your dog's ears either outdoors or in an area where nothing can be stained by debris from the ear canal, such as a tiled bathroom. Use a two-stage cleaning technique: first flood the ear canal with cleaning solution prescribed by your veterinarian. Make sure you fill the canal--don't just use a few drops. You can also soak a cotton ball with the solution and place it in the ear. Allow the solution to remain in contact with the canal for at least 60 seconds, and gently massage the entire canal during this time. Dry the canal with a cotton ball. Use only real cotton balls, which are less irritating than synthetic ones are. Never clean your dog's ears with a cotton swab. The swab pushes debris further into the ear canal, which puts the eardrum under pressure, possibly causing it to rupture. The second stage is a repeat of the first. Again, allow the solution to contact the canal for a full 60 seconds or more and massage the ear. Then step back and let your dog shake its head. The frequency of cleaning varies based on how severely your dog's ears are affected, but, in general, perform this cleaning a couple of times a month depending on how much debris is present.

Anatomy of the Ear:

Ear Anatomy

Submitted 9/19/05:
I have a 14-year old female setter. She has excessive ear wax that builds up. I clean her ears almost everyday! The next day again there is a lot of wax. The buildup is a tar color – I am using ear wipes, but would like some advice.

One of the first things I would recommend is to take a look at some of my previous recommendations and diagrams on ear cleaning. There are times that I have seen aggressive cleaning cause further irritation and infection as well as some dogs appear to be allergic or sensitive to certain cleaners.

With a black tarry discharge I would be worried about an infection that does warrant a veterinary exam with diagnostics. With an older dog the causes could be as simple as an ear infection to something more aggressive like a tumor in the ear canal. My recommendation would be to see your vet and get the condition back under control.

Submitted 5/03/05:
My three-year old GSP is having some problems with his ears. Yesterday I let him out of his kennel for a run and when he came back I started petting him and he yelped when I touched his ear. I looked inside his ears and they were dirty. My neighbor worked with a vet for years and told me the dog had ear mites. He gave me a home remedy, which I did yesterday and again today but the dog is still yelping when I touch the ear. Any suggestions?

Unfortunately your neighbor is misinformed. Ear mites in adult dogs, without exposure to cats or puppies, are very uncommon. More than likely your dog has an ear infection (and a bad one to be in that much pain). I would strongly recommend scheduling an appointment to see your vet.

The dog will need to have a sample taken to determine what type of infection is present and to set up a treatment plan. If the infection is bad enough the dog may need his ears flushed and to be placed on oral medications as well as ear drops to help with the infection. Just as important as the medications will be cleaning the ears both initially and throughout treatment; routine cleaning is a great way to keep your dog’s ears from having a reoccurrence once the infection is under control.

Submitted 10/20/04:
We live on a lake and one of my dogs loves to swim daily and keeps her ears infected. We have been to the vet two or three different times, got creams, ear wash, and antibiotics, and kept her penned for two weeks to stay out of the water. When she gets back in the water the infection comes back. Her ear canals must be very small for a dog her size to allow such a good breeding ground. It hurts her, runs and stinks. Twice a day I am now down to hydrogen peroxide, which really seems to be doing better than anything. I am tired HELP.

Ear infections in dogs can be a very frustrating situation, though with proper communication with your vet and dedication on your part they can be managed. The first point I would want to clear up is what diagnostics have been done? It is very important to identify what type of organism is causing the problem, whether it be yeast or bacteria (what type of bacteria) or if it is just inflammation.

If a specific cause has been identified and the treatments fail, then I take a look at why these dogs get ear infections. If it seems seasonal in nature I would consider the possibility of an inhalant allergy causing the dog to be predisposed to ear infections, and if the problem is year round I’d look at a food source. Typically when you and I experience allergies (i.e. hayfever) we develop respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, etc.). When dogs get allergies, they usually develop skin problems and become predisposed to developing infections and the ears are just an extension of the skin.

Lastly, I would examine if any of the medications or cleaners seem to irritate the ears. Some dogs will react to certain carrier components of the medication or certain cleaners. I also think twice a day cleaning is a little excessive and would recommend going with something other than the hydrogen peroxide, often times we can clean the ears too much and cause irritation…this is very sensitive skin. There are a lot of good, gentle cleaners on the market that you would be better served in using. Many are formulated to impede bacteria and yeast growth as well as help to evaporate water out of the ear canal. Most dogs can get by on once or twice a week cleaning when the proper maintenance program is in place. There are several dog products available that are swimmer’s ear astringents for helping with these problems. They help evaporate the water out of the ear canal; I would use this on a daily basis after the swim and the cleaner on a less regular basis.

Unfortunately there is not a quick fix and it may take several trips to the vet before the problem is nailed down and an acceptable solution is found. If the problem is either of the allergy problems, then you will have many more steps involved in the process.